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Franchisees under 30: Q&A with Debra Fielding, Stagecoach

Posted: 08 Aug 2019
Estimated Read Time: in 15 minutes

“Franchising is so much more than a business, it’s something you can put your heart and soul into,” says Debra

Franchisees under 30: Q&A with Debra Fielding, Stagecoach

Debra Fielding, 26, Stagecoach

Launching Stagecoach Oxford Summertown in August, Debra was one of the performing arts business’ many students, before becoming a Stagecoach Early Stages and dance teacher after graduating from university. She was named Newcomer of the Year 2018 at the Stagecoach global conference.

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WF: When and why did you decide to invest in a franchise?
For me, it just so happened that I was in the right place at the right time. But I think it’s important to realise how beneficial franchising can be to someone who doesn’t necessarily have business acumen.

I have a few friends who run dance schools by themselves, which means exactly that - they’re by themselves. Investing in a franchise gives me an almost endless list of phone numbers I can ring to ask for help if I need it. The support from head office is tremendous and has helped me grow so quickly in the last year.

WF: Why did you choose to become a Stagecoach franchisee?
Growing up, I was involved with everything performing arts. From my GCSEs to A-Levels and then on to my degree, it was my life. I was also a student at Stagecoach Oxford and it was when I phoned the existing franchisee, Maya, asking for a job as a dance teacher that I started to learn more about the business side.

I taught full-time for three years before Maya retired and the school got split four ways - I took three of the seven Main Stage schools and launched Stagecoach Summertown. I guess it could be seen as luck, but I would say the mothership was calling me home.

WF: Did you have to overcome any business challenges because of your age?
In short, yes. Because the students in the Further Stage classes are only six years younger than I am, they didn’t see me as the principal, but we eventually reached a middle ground.

Some teachers also had some difficulty getting used to me being the principal. With a newbie stepping in after spending 27 years with Maya, it took some for us all, but we now have a great working relationship.

By far the most important aspect was gaining the trust of the parents. I completely understand they just wanted to check I was capable, and it was up to me to demonstrate that. 

WF: What’s the best thing about being a franchisee?
The best thing about being a franchisee is how rewarding it feels to provide my kids with the opportunities from Stagecoach. I spend the week in the office, preparing for classes at the weekend and I get excited when I have news to share with the students. I’m the creative mind behind everything that happens and that’s exactly what I wanted.

It’s also great to be in control of my own time. I’m quite flexible in the week, doing whatever I need to keep the business going, so the balance between my work and home life is perfect.

WF: What skills do you need to become a successful franchisee?
It’s important to be able to manage your own time and be strict with yourself. It can be very easy to wake up and think: “I could have a day off today” - trust me, I’ve done it - but it’s about realising that you get out as much as you put in.

At the other end of the scale, as a business owner, it can be hard to actually take time away. I’ve started writing ‘DAY OFF!’ in my diary so I know, and so does everyone else, that I won’t be available for work purposes. Motivation is key, but knowing when to switch off is also just as crucial.

WF: Best piece of advice for someone considering investing in a franchise?
Franchising is so much more than a business, it’s something you can put your heart and soul into. If you are passionate about something, whether it’s giving back to children, providing a service or you just want to build a rewarding business, everything else will simply fall into place. Franchising provides a great foundation that is accessible for everyone.

Day in the life…

Debra has two types of working day: in the office and in the school.

She explains: “My office days consist of a lot of admin. I get into the office at 9am to make sure I have a nice, neat pile of my to-do tasks. I’m a slight neat freak, so everything has to be tidy before I can start any jobs.

“I clear my emails, responding to anything that needs urgent attention, flagging anything that can be dealt with later and deleting any junk. I usually have a lot of parent queries and they become my main priority.

“I then move on to creating the rehearsal schedule and making sure shows are running smoothly - I like to plan quite far in advance.

“I have things drop in throughout the day and I use the same process as the morning to filter through these. I finish up around 4pm and I go on to teach classes two nights a week for Stagecoach Abingdon. I don’t answer my phone after 6pm, answering anything that does come through the following day.”

Debra’s day in the school is entirely different.

“The madness begins at 2:30pm on a Friday and lasts for the whole weekend,” she says. “I run classes on Friday evenings, Saturday mornings and all day on Sundays during term time. A register is taken and the classes get underway.

On Sunday mornings, we have four classes running altogether and it can get a bit crazy at times. Ensuring every student is registered and ready to start is quite a challenge.

“In the afternoon, it becomes a lot more relaxed as it’s just one Main Stage school class. I’m able to interact with them a bit more, as well as start to tidy up. That finishes at 5:30pm and I’ve managed to perfect the end-of-day clear up, so we can all leave a bit quicker. I then have my evening to wind down.”

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